Category: Lawn & Garden


Bob Vila Radio: Battery-Powered Lawn Mowers

In the market for a new lawn mower? If you're wondering whether a battery-powered model would be right for your property, these pros and cons can help you decide once and for all.

With the cost of gasoline continuing to rise, battery-powered lawn mowers have been getting a lot of attention lately. And there are some good reasons for that.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON BATTERY-POWERED MOWERS or read the text below:

They’re quieter than gas mowers; they’re often lighter to maneuver; they need less maintenance; and they don’t spew noxious fumes. Still, they do have their drawbacks. They’re often a bit more expensive to purchase than gas mowers. And some battery-powered mowers just aren’t as powerful as comparable gas mowers. That’s especially true of the low-end models, many of which run on 18-volt  batteries.

On the other hand, higher-end models that get their juice from beefier batteries may do as good a job—or even better—than their gas powered cousins. If you do decide to go with a battery-powered model, you’ll probably want to pick up an extra battery, to be sure you can finish the job in a  single session.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Finishing a Deck

Before choosing a finish for your worn-out deck, consider the maintenance requirements of paint versus stain.

Painted decks are nice to look at, but they can require a lot of maintenance. Constant exposure to sun, water, and foot traffic will challenge even the best paint job.

Finishing a Deck

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When it does come time to paint—and that may be every year or two—you can take the quick route and use a belt sander to remove just the paint that’s peeling. Or using a chemical paint stripper and pressure washer, you can take the whole deck down to bare wood.

You’ll want to use tarps to protect the house and plants from paint chips and chemicals. Once that’s done… you wait. The surface needs to be completely dry before you apply primer and paint. That may take several days.

At some point in the paint-and-peel cycle, you may want to strip the deck and apply a stain instead of paint. Stain penetrates the wood rather than sitting on top. You’ll still have some maintenance to tend to, but it won’t take as big a bite out of your time.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Repot a Plant

For a houseplant to thrive, it may need to be moved into more spacious digs from time to time. Here's how to tell when your plant needs a bigger pot, and how to get it there quickly and safely.

How to Repot a Plant

Photo: shutterstock.com

Even if you’ve never before tried to repot a plant, you can do it today without much trouble, probably in under 15 minutes—so long as you’re dealing with a houseplant. It’s a different story with plants that live outdoors, not least because they tend to be larger and heavier, and therefore more difficult to move about. But for the vast majority of plants grown on windowsills and desktops, repotting is a simple and—in my opinion—a relaxing and fun job. Probably the trickiest part is deciding when it’s appropriate to move a plant out of its current container. One sure sign is if the plant has stopped growing. Another is if the roots are poking through or visible near the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. Still another indication, less obvious than the others, is if the foliage has lost its vigor and begun to go limp. Once you’ve determined that your houseplant would prefer roomier accommodations, go ahead and follow the easy steps detailed below.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Hand fork or trowel
- Gardening scissors
- New pot
- Potting soil or compost

STEP 1
Bring the plant you’re repotting to an area where you feel comfortable making a little mess. Indoors, many people simply cover a table with newspaper. In some cases, watering the plant to dampen (not soak) the soil may make it easier to remove the plant from its container. In other instances, it’s easier to work with dry soil. Use your judgement. Rest assured that neither technique is better or worse for the plant’s health. Keep in mind that working with damp soil will make the process somewhat messier.

How to Repot a Plant - Roots Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
The best way to remove the plant from its current home depends both on the size of the plant and the type of pot it’s in. If it’s a small plant in a plastic nursery container, you can simply turn the container upside down and gently squeeze from the bottom, using your free hand to guide the plant out.

If it’s a larger plant in, say, a heavy terra-cotta pot, work a gardening fork or trowel around the edge of the soil in the container. Root damage is inevitable here, but try to keep it to a minimum. Next, lay the pot on its side and turn the container (not the plant) slowly, thereby twisting the plant out onto your work surface.

STEP 3
Now it’s time to prepare the new container. Double-check to make sure that it has at least one good-size drainage hole; if it doesn’t, you can always create one with your drill/driver. Some indoor gardeners like to line the bottom of pots with stones or broken pottery to further enhance drainage.

STEP 4
After filling the container halfway with new potting soil, use gardening scissors to clean up the plant and its root ball. Remove any old stems that could slow the plant’s growth, and cut away any dark-looking roots. With your hands, gently break up parts of the root ball to encourage new growth.

STEP 5
Position the plant into its new container so that the top edge of the root ball hits an inch or two below the lip of the pot. Add soil to backfill around the sides of the root ball until the plant can stand upright on its own. You may need to pack the soil, but be very careful not to make the medium too dense.

STEP 6
To help your plant cope with the shock of having been repotted, give it a good soak. Finally, return the plant to its favorite perch, whether it’s the humid environment of your bathroom or the cheerful sun of a bay window.


How To: Maintain the Metal in Your Yard

While most homeowners regularly tend to their lawns and landscaping, they often give short shrift to the metal elements in their yard—gates, railings, chairs and tables. Follow our tips for keeping these items clean and rust-free with a little TLC.

Photo: brickmoondesign.com

Enter the yard of most homes in America and somewhere among the trees, shrubs, and grass, you’re bound to find metal. Patio furniture, barbecue grills, handrails, fences, and gates—these are only some of the metal features common to the spaces outside our front doors. Thanks to metal’s well-deserved reputation for durability, we don’t often think about the material’s maintenance requirements. But when it comes to preventing rust—the mortal enemy of metal—homeowners must intervene from time to time to ensure that their outdoor metals keep looking and performing their very best. Follow these simple guidelines to help iron, steel, and other metals enjoy the longest life possible.

Coatings Are Not Superficial
Once precipitation and harsh weather have conspired to compromise and chip away at the coating on metal, then it’s only a matter of time before rust makes an appearance. Choosing your metals wisely is the best prevention. You’ll get the greatest longevity from products that have baked-on enamel or powder-coated surfaces. In comparison to less expensive painted or varnished metal, these coated products are far less vulnerable to peeling and flaking. Although they’re more expensive initially, metal items with superior coatings are worth the cost in the long run because they truly last for years.

Photo: hibbshomes.com

Safeguard Your Furniture
Metal outdoor furniture offers particular challenges. To make your furniture last, get in the habit of keeping up these easy routines:

• What a difference cleanliness makes! At least twice each year, give your metal tables and chairs a thorough once-over. A mixture of warm water and liquid detergent ought to do the trick. Apply the solution with a sponge; grab an old toothbrush to scrub any hard-to-reach areas. Use a hose to rinse away all traces of the detergent, then dry the metal with a rag, or on a good day, leave it to air-dry in the sun.

• Take pains to avoid damaging the metal’s coating. A simple action like clinking two metal surfaces together can chip one or both pieces, and dragging a chair or table leg may result in scrapes that leave the furniture vulnerable to rust. Take precautions. Raise the furniture up from the ground when you’re moving it, and at the end of the season, when you’re storing away your furniture, use old towels to prevent the pieces from hitting each other.

• If you live somewhere with monsoon summers, harsh winters, or other types of severe weather, consider bringing your outdoor metal furniture indoors, whether it’s for short-term shelter whenever a violent storm threatens, or for a season-long hibernation when the temperatures drop. No storage space in your basement, crawl space, or shed? A reasonable alternative is to cover the furniture with a breathable fabric for the duration of the foul weather.

Make Fixes Fast
Despite your best efforts, the metal on your property may begin to show signs of wear. Don’t wait for a small problem to get more serious. When you come across a small patch of rust, thoroughly clean the area (as described above), except work fine-grit sandpaper into the procedure. Lightly sand the rust away, then wipe off all residual grit before touching up the surface. Use metal primer first; once it has dried completely, follow up with a paint that’s specially formulated for metal.

Perform a Rescue Operation
More extensive damage demands more time and effort, and may require refinishing the metal. Here, preparation is key. Before you can begin a refinishing project, you’ve got to get down to bare metal—which is easier said than done. Use a wire brush—or to make quicker, easier work of it, use the wire wheel attachment on your power drill—and proceed to scrape away the old coating. Pay special attention to any crevices or scrolls that may be part of the design. Once you’re done scraping, wipe down the metal with a damp cloth (or hose it off), then wait for everything to dry before you apply metal primer and metal paint.


Bob Vila Radio: Lawn Mower Blade Height

The health of your lawn depends on many factors, including the height at which you set your mower blade to cut.

Whatever type of turf you have in your yard, if you want to keep it looking its best, make sure your mower is set to cut at the right height.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON MOWER HEIGHT or read the text below:

And what, exactly, is the right height? Well, for starters, try following the ‘rule of one third’. The idea is that you shouldn’t more than one third the length of the grass at any one time.

So, if you have, say, Bermuda grass—which is healthiest when kept a little more than an inch high—cut it back once it starts to edge up toward two inches. For fescue or rye, which do best at two to three inches, you’ll want to set your mower height up a couple of notches.

Raising the height a bit is also a good idea whenever the turf is stressed by heat, drought, bugs or other factors. Keeping your lawn trimmed to the right height not only promotes healthy growth, it also helps keep weeds at bay.

Height adjustment on most mowers is easy. Just check your manual.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Grow Potatoes

So filling to eat, so versatile to cook with, and so satisfying to plant, the lowly potato is a rewarding crop for any backyard or container gardener—even a beginner!

How to Grow Potatoes

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If you’ve never tasted homegrown potatoes, prepare to be amazed. A hundred days or so after planting—more or less, depending on the variety you choose—you’ll have an abundance of spuds. Of all vegetables, these are among the easiest to grow, making them a good choice for gardening neophytes—but even veterans would do well to observe the following guidelines for success.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Seed potatoes
- Hoe
- Garden container (optional)
- General-purpose compost
- Watering can

STEP 1
Though it’s sometimes possible to grow crops from store-bought potatoes, it’s best to purchase chemical- and disease-free seed potatoes. Doing so gives you the power to choose a specific variety, something that’s important because different potatoes have different needs. Whereas some varieties mature in 90 days and can be planted more closely together, others mature in 110 days and should be spaced farther apart. Knowing what variety you’re planting means you can meet its specific requirements. Generally speaking, the best time to plant potatoes is two or three weeks before the final frost, once the soil first becomes workable.

How to Grow Potatoes - Detail Plant

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Potatoes are hardy and are able to adapt to different soil types. If you can, however, it’s wise to add compost to the soil in the fall, several months before you actually put the seed potatoes into the ground. When you’re ready to plant, clear away all weeds and use a hoe to break up the soil surface. Adding a few handfuls of general-purpose compost per square yard at this stage will further improve the nutrient value of your soil.

STEP 3
Plant each seed potato about six or eight inches into the prepared ground. As mentioned previously, the ideal distance between each seed potato depends on the variety of potato. A rule of thumb: Potatoes that take longer to mature often need more growing room. Before planting an individual seed potato, make sure that it has at least two eyes—bulbous protrusions from which roots grow. The eyes should face up. Cover each seed potato with three or four inches of soil, leaving the area slightly below grade.

STEP 4
As hardy as potatoes are, they are quite sensitive to drought, so remember to water on a consistent basis—once a week should suffice. If your region sees an exceptionally sunny period, however, water more frequently. By the same token, if it rains, lay off for a few days; it’s best not to let the soil become soggy.

STEP 5
Before they bloom, when the potato plants are about six or eight inches high, rake or hoe soil against the base of each plant. Known as “hilling,” this process not only supports the plants, helping them to stay upright, but it also cools down the soil in which the roots are growing. Two weeks after your initial hilling, replenish these mounds with another few inches of soil. Then—or in lieu of the second hilling—lay down a loose layer of breathable mulch (for example, leaves or straw) to protect the vines from insects.

STEP 6
The last step—perhaps the most satisfying—is to harvest your crop. For new potatoes, harvest two or three weeks after the plants flower. Harvest all mature potatoes once the plant vines have died back and lost most of their color. Bear in mind that it’s easiest to dig on a dry day, when the soil isn’t moist from watering or recent rains. Depending on the quality of your soil, you can dig with your hands right off the bat, or you may need to use a tool to loosen the ground first. The potatoes will be four to six inches below the surface, ready to be brushed off and stored in a cool, dry, dark place.

Additional Tips
- If in doubt as to when it’s appropriate to harvest, pull up one plant and assess its growth.

- About two weeks before you harvest, cut the leaves off at ground level. That gives the potato skins time to toughen, which makes the vegetables easier to store.

- Because washing potatoes shortens their storage life, don’t rinse a potato under the faucet until you’re actually ready to use it in your cooking.


Bob Vila Radio: Sites for Compost

What are the best sites for compost piles on your property? These guidelines can help you decide where to deposit the kitchen and yard waste that go into creating nutrient-rich soil.

Composting puts your yard and kitchen waste to work creating nutrient-rich soil for your garden. It’s a true win-win, and it’s not hard to do. For greatest success, however, use care when choosing a site for your pile.

Sites for Compost

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First, check with your homeowner’s association or other municipal authority. Some have regulations stipulating where compost piles can be placed; others forbid composting outright. In the absence of restrictions, your best bet is to put your compost pile on a sunny, level area with good drainage. Ideally, it should sit on top of earth rather than concrete. This will aid drainage and encourage earthworms, bacteria, and other beneficial microbes. Keep the pile within reach of a hose so you can give it a spritz if it’s too dry.

Heat is important, but you also want to avoid extreme cold. Shelter your compost pile from the winds to keep things decomposing even as the temperature dips. Barriers or smart landscaping can also be a courtesy to your neighbors by shielding your pile from view. While smell shouldn’t be a problem—a properly maintained compost pile doesn’t stink—do be concerned about wildlife. Access doors should latch shut, and any meshing should be made of metal and be fine and strong enough to keep out rodents and other foragers.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Weekend Projects: 5 Delectable DIY Picnic Tables

Whatever your aesthetic, whatever your needs, there's a DIY picnic table for you. Don't miss these five creative takes on a backyard classic. One is bound to suit your summer style—and your budget.

There’s nothing nicer than enjoying the company of friends and family over food and drink in the summertime. But do you have room to seat everyone on your deck, porch, or patio? If not, consider adding a picnic table to your suite of outdoor furniture. Though it has a relatively compact footprint, a picnic table provides plenty of seating, possibly even enough for every member of your crew. Plus, it doesn’t have to cost much. If you’ve got the time and a little lumber, you can make a DIY picnic table for hundreds less than you’d pay for a brand-new setup. Scroll down now to see five favorite DIY picnic table designs!

 

1. GET BENCHED

DIY Picnic Table - Benches

Photo: instructables.com

Compared with a stand-alone picnic table, a design with detached benches offers more versatility. Because the pieces need not travel together, the table and benches can be put into service in different places, for different purposes. Visit Instructables for a guide to making the model pictured above, complete with sleek profile and mitered corners.

 

2. REPURPOSE PALLETS

DIY Picnic Table - Pallets

Photo: diycozyhome.com

These days, people are using plywood shipping pallets to make all sorts of nifty furniture. Here, a handful of pallets have been combined—with only slight modifications—to create a DIY picnic table. The simple, utilitarian design can be enlivened with the addition of paint in your favorite bold, summery hues.

 

3. PACK A SUITCASE

DIY Picnic Table - Suitcase

Photo: momentarilyyoursevents.blogspot.com

Equip yourself for impromptu picnics with the ultimate in upcycling—a vintage suitcase that can not only carry snacks and beverages, but also convert into a table at a moment’s notice. Oh, and did we forget to mention the speakers? Yup—expect conversations with strangers wherever you take this ingenious creation.

 

4. PIPE DOWN

DIY Picnic Table - Plumbing Pipes

Photo: 4men1lady.com

Easier to build than it looks—and a minimalist complement to any outdoor living area that sports a modern vibe—this industrial-chic DIY picnic table involves two very different materials that, when united, manage to look elegant and perfectly paired. For convenience, add casters to make the piece effortless to move.

 

5. FOR THE KIDS

DIY Picnic Table - Kids

Photo: kidfriendlyhome.com

Prime your patio for pint-sized play by building this DIY picnic table, a scaled-down version of the classic design found in so many parks and yards, today as well as in years past. For kids ages 3 to 10, this bright-painted construction is destined to be home base for everything from meals to arts and crafts.


How To: Sharpen a Chain Saw

A chain saw with a dull, poorly maintained chain won't cut cleanly or effectively—and it's a safety hazard to boot. Follow these guidelines to sharpen a chain saw sharp and keep your trusty tool in good working order.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

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Like any other tool in your arsenal, a chain saw must be properly and consistently maintained in order to perform effectively. Of course, you can hire a professional to sharpen your chain saw, but most do-it-yourselfers can handle the job on their own, saving some money in the process. So if you’ve noticed that your chain saw no longer cuts as easily and cleanly as it once did, read on to learn how to sharpen your chain saw and keep the tool in good working order.

Chain saw maintenance requires a basic understanding of the tool’s component parts. The models owned by average homeowners typically include the following:
- Engine
- Drive mechanism
- Guide bar
- Chain

Lubricate
Different chain saws operate slightly differently and have different maintenance requirements. Study the manual that came with your chain saw to understand the needs of your specific model. That said, it’s almost invariably true that every part of a chain saw either must have or would benefit from lubrication. Besides occasionally inspecting the motor and chain, confirm on a regular basis that there’s a sufficient quantity of oil in the tool’s reservoir. Also check the guide bar, which holds the chain in place. It can become twisted or bent during use. Avoid problems by ensuring the integrity of the guide bar before you start up your chain saw, each and every time. Even while you’re working, it’s wise to occasionally spot-check this crucial part of what is, after all, a powerful and potentially dangerous tool.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw - Detail Blade

Photo: shutterstock.com

Sharpen the Chain Saw
There are two approaches to sharpening a chain saw. You can handle the task by means of an electric sharpener—and if you fell trees frequently, electric sharpeners are an indispensable convenience—or you can accomplish the same result manually, using a combination of muscle, sweat, and sharpening files. Electric sharpeners are used mainly by tradesmen, so these tips focus on the manual method, which is more accessible to DIYers.

The chain comprises a series of teeth. You are going to need a file that precisely matches up with the size of an individual tooth in the chain. For reference, the most common sizes are 3/16″, 5/32″, and 7/32″.

Once you’ve obtained a file of the correct size, begin work by thoroughly cleaning the chain, removing all oil, dirt, and debris. (Depending on the condition of the chain, mineral spirits may be either essential or excessive.) Look closely at the chain as you’re cleaning it. If any of the teeth are damaged, the chain may be unsafe to use, in which case you should repair it (if possible) or swap in a new chain.

For best results, you need to firmly stabilize the chain saw before attempting to file the chain. Some choose to place the chain saw in a vise, with the clamps holding the guide bar in such a way that the chain can rotate freely. Alternatively, you can enlist a helper to keep the tool steady while you work.

Locate the shortest cutter blade on the chain (the cutters are the ones with flat tops). This is where you should begin sharpening. If all the cutters are the same height, then you can start with any tooth on the chain, but remember to mark—with a pencil, marker, or even nail polish—the first one that you sharpen.

Set the file into the notched section at the head of the cutter. Holding the file at an angle—the same angle at which the notch was initially ground or most recently filed—slide the file across, twisting it somewhat so as to create friction. From that initial cutter, proceed to file every second cutter around the chain. Now reverse the saw and proceed to file each of the teeth that you left alone in the course of your first pass. When you’ve finished, the flat tops of all the cutters should be more or less precisely the same length.

Finally, inspect the depth gauges (these are the curved links between the cutters). Each depth gauge, or raker, should be shorter than the adjacent cutter. If you find a depth gauge whose height exceeds that of the closest cutter, file down the raker so that it sits about 1/10″ below the height of its cutter counterpart.

Now that you know how to sharpen a chain saw, bear in mind that the more frequently you use the tool, the more often it’s going to need maintenance. In fact, if you are using the chain saw for hours on end over the course of a day, you may need to pause at some point in order to restore the chain’s sharpness. Also, be aware that chain saws are likely to show wear in some areas more than others. Pay special attention to the area near the tip of the saw, particularly if you often use it for cutting tree limbs.


Bob Vila Radio: Small Yards

With smart planning, even a small yard can be beautiful and functional. Find out how to make the most of your compact outdoor space.

A well-designed outdoor space is like having an extra room in the house. Even a small yard is a great treasure, but it takes smart landscaping to make it functional and beautiful. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your small yard.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SMALL SPACE YARDS or read the text below:

Small Yards

Photo: shutterstock.com

First, keep the space open and uncluttered. Avoid privacy fencing, opting instead for soft boundary-setters like plantings and hedges. This will keep your yard from feeling hemmed in.

By the same token, choose small-scale, unobtrusive furnishings and forgo large structures like pergolas. Make use of all the square footage; even a neglected side yard can become a quiet dining area or a cozy reading nook.

To create a unified design and keep clutter to a minimum, establish a single focal point—a fountain, tree, or sculpture. Meanwhile, select furnishings that do double duty. For example, choose benches that provide both seating and storage and if possible, incorporate seating into hardscaping like retaining walls.

Container gardening and vertical plantings are particularly suited to small spaces. Flowers, vegetables, and even small trees can thrive in containers and create a beautiful mix of textures, colors, and heights. Even better, they can be moved around to create smaller “rooms” in your yard. Hanging baskets, trellises with trailing greenery, and planters mounted on walls all draw the eye up and bring interest and depth to small spaces.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.